UDL and Transition

This week’s session in the UDL course focused on UDL in transition planning.  This really hit home for me as I have been supporting my teenage daughter with significant disabilities through postsecondary transition planning since she was in 5th grade.   The foundation of the Individualized Education Program, Individualized Services Plan, and Individualized Employment Plans developed for Brooke by the schools, community-services board, and rehabilitation services is a person-centered approach:  capturing her unique interests, capabilities, and support needs so she is successful in meeting her post high goals. 

Brooke's Plan

Brooke’s Plan

Traditionally, a transition assessment would rely on time limited paper-based forms, interviews, and community-based instruction/exploration. Given Brooke’s disabilities, she is unable to answer verbally or in writing and will disengage quickly from a process in which she cannot actively participate. The majority of her communication is done through body movement.  With the support of federal language in the reauthorization of IDEA, through a UDL enhanced approach, a portfolio was developed instead of Brooke’s interests that included results from trying a variety of hands on work/situational assessments, pictures, and digital formats to find those career areas in which she was engaged.  This concept is reinforced by experts in the field of UDL, including Smith (2003) who wrote that “the requirements of vocational evaluation – to use multiple sources and multiple methods to gain multiple outcomes that will assist participants – naturally align with UDL philosophy, tenets, and principles.”

In looking further at Brooke’s transition experience, through assessment examples using the UDL lens, the transition coordinator:

Principle 1: provide multiple means of representation

  • Connected Brooke with volunteer opportunities at a dog rescue and kennel to explore hands on what it means to be in a career working with animals, and ysed a guitar, youtube videos, and iPad apps for pianos, to explore her interest in music
  • Explored www.alife4me.org for community career ideas

Principle 2: provide multiple means of action and expression

  • Used several apps on an iPad (i.e., ProLoQuo, Tap to Talk) allowing Brooke opportunities to express, beyond her behavior, choices in items presented. 
  • Presented career interest inventories on the computer or through apps (i.e., Career Assessment, Career Test)

App shot 2App shot 1

Principle 3: provide multiple means of engagement

  • Created a powerpoint with photos from exploration done with Brooke at a number of community settings involving work with animals (dog rescue, SPCA, pet store) to show the IEP team her interests and to document how she worked towards career related IEP goals


Smith, F. G. (2003). Universal design for learning and vocational evaluation: Recognizing the parallels. The National Issues Forum Papers:  2003 Proceedings. Retrieved from http://vecap.org/index.php?/site/publications_categories/C112/


UDL and Systems Change at the Partnership for People with Disabilities

This week’s topic and materials are timely in that I am in the midst of writing goals and objectives for our organization’s next 5 year core grant cycle. Discussion in our writing team has generated themes around intra-organizational dynamics, among them creating universal access to how information flows and how new knowledge is created. To get to the importance of intra-organizational change, it is important to first understand the organization for which I work.

The Partnership for People with Disabilities
The Partnership is part of a network of 67 University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (www.partnership.vcu.edu) funded nationwide under the federal Developmental Disabilities Act to, in a nutshell, bring evidenced-based, best and promising practices to the state and demonstrate knowledge to practice in supporting people with disabilities and their families. This is accomplished through research; pre-service training; continuing education; community training and technical assistance; information dissemination; and some limited direct service.

Currently, the Partnership’s 80 staff work on about 25 project that have as their primary audience targets children and young adults aged 0 – 26, families, and the myriad of professionals that serve them in communities. Many projects operate in isolation and we are often known by one or two projects and seen as a ‘mini mall’ of initiatives rather than one well branded entity. Because of this, for instance, seven grants/contracts with similar goals around family involvement and support blended in 2005 into the formation of a Center for Family Involvement. A Center for Disability Leadership also exists and there is talk about developing a Center for Professional Development.

The Partnership is soft funded, meaning the organization is completely reliant on state and federal government grants and contracts. In the not so distant past, the Partnership annually operated on a $9 million budget. The country’s economic climate has contributed to a loss of $3 million for the past two years and it seems the writing is on the wall for further budget cuts. Through the DD Act, the UCEDDs receive a core grant from the federal government each five years (approximately $.5 million per year) to serve as a catalyst to leverage additional funds to carry out initiatives that meet the state’s identified disability service system’s needs. The next cycle begins in July 2013; hence the current goal writing activity. The writing team for which I am a part is interested in both internal and external innovations.

Intra-Organizational Change
Three important philosophies of organizational change emerged from my preparation for this week’s assignment: learning organizations, knowledge management, and disruptive innovation.

The first, learning organizations, comes from one of our class readings about Peter Senge and his vision for workplaces built around learning. In Webber’s interview with Senge, it is proposed that “companies are actually living organisms, not machine” (Learning for a Change, 1999). And, for change to happen, personal growth (both through learning and unlearning), innovators, networkers, and plain old enthusiasm and fun need to be in place. There is also an introduction of the idea of organizations as communities of practice who need staff who design and carry out the projects and those who network and build buy-in.

The second philosophy, knowledge management, is “the process of capturing, distributing and effectively using knowledge…from databases, documents, policies, procedures…” (Koenig, 2012). Simply adding more or new technology does not effectively enable knowledge sharing. Certainly technology has a hand in the learning process, but is starts with understanding how people perceive and process information. And building on those best practices, or lessons learned, to facilitate knowledge sharing.

And finally, Christiansen’s concept of disruptive innovation. Apple has been a leader in disruptive innovation with the iPhone and the iPad that went beyond meeting the needs of existing customers, but opened the company up to a wealth of new customers. Christensen and Overdorf (2000) posit that companies are more successful if they spend as much or more time thinking about “..their organization’s capacity as they think about individual people’s capabilities ” and “…understand precisely what types of change the organization is capable and incapable of handling” (p. 1).

UDL Systems Change and the Partnership
Now to get back to the Partnership’s core grant writing (a theme of creating universal access to how information flows and how new knowledge is created) and how these three concepts, coupled with UDL, apply. To begin, it does not seem necessary to change some of the formal processes or perhaps bring in new staff. It is more about clarifying the vision for a new way of knowledge sharing and working together, and putting in place roles and systems that reinforce that vision.

For the sake of the reader digesting this long post, I’ll provide a few examples of how to make this happen. While a handful of staff have been schooled in UDL, it is not known or practiced organization wide, particularly with staff disconnected physically (three separate office locations for staff with many others working from home across the state). The Partnership needs to know what UDL is, why it is important, and how to ensure that as a part of quality information dissemination (whether through training, technical assistance or direct service) that everything going out the door must be critiqued through a UDL lens.

As a starting point, my first goal – organizational wide UDL implementation – would include an objective that staff are knowledge of/orientated to the basics of designing instruction (for all of our technical assistance, training and direct services) that supports recognition, strategic and affective networks. One activity would be contracting with an expert (such as Dr. Fran Smith) in UDL to conduct the orientation. A second would be taking several products through a UDL checklist to gauge where improvements may be made.

A second objective would be to have an understanding of the Partnership’s current capability of designing instruction that is accessible to and for all. An activity would be to bring together a small team to assess what is currently in place that supports UDL implementation. The CAST website provides an ideal instrument; the UDL systemic change planner tool that identifies eight important components for consideration (technology infrastructure; digital resources; administrative support; staff training and support; staff roles; collaborative planning; stakeholder involvement; and funding) (http://www.cast.org/teachingeverystudent/tools/systemicchangetool.cfm).

A second goal would focus on organizational structure that supports the Partnership as a viable, learning organization. This goal would include an objective that staff are supported in personal growth. An activity might be surveying all staff on topics for which they are interested in, enthused about learning more (not a topic that is a requirement of their day to day job).

A second objective would be an infrastructure that supports communities of practice (not just within projects, but across projects). This would require an activity of identifying the people who produce the organization’s products and interact with its ‘customers,’ and the people who are the networkers/community builders – both of whom who might foster our scaling up of innovation.


Christensen, C.M. and Overdorf, M. (2000). Meeting the Challenge of Disruptive Change. Harvard Business Review. March-April. p. 1-11. Retrieved from http://mis.postech.ac.kr/class/MEIE780_AdvMIS/paper/part1/14_Meeting%20the%20Challenge%20of%20Disruptive%20Change.pdf

Koenig, M.E.D. (2012). What is KM? Knowledge Management Explained. KM World. Retrieved from http://www.kmworld.com/Articles/Editorial/What-Is-…/What-is-KM-Knowledge-Management-Explained-82405.aspx

Webber, A. M. (1999). Learning for a Change. Fast Company. Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/36819/learning-change

Performance Evaluations…The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

All of us at some point in our working career have had a personnel evaluation.  Over the years, I have heard stories about good, bad, and downright ugly performance evaluations.  Phrases used such as “One of your strenthgs is your ability to be candid when communicating with staff.”  “You lash out at staff.”  “Dude, you and Joanne are always in shouting matches.  What’s up with that?”

I just had my annual review in September! 

The process my office uses to conduct performance evaluations is a mix of summative and formative approaches. It includes the staff person doing a self-assessment (a summative reflection on what the person accomplished over the past year) and a face to face meeting with their supervisor (a formative discussion of long term goal mastery strategies). Our evaluation process used to include peer review (you had to get two co-workers to provide to your supervisor written feedback on your strengths and areas in which you could improve) but they no longer require that step. I think the 360 degree evaluations are best – information is collected from the person, their boss and co-workers, and from customers/consumers of the organization. Having said that, I remember providing peer review to a supervisor about a co-worker. While I didn’t say anything out of line, I did suggest some areas of improvement which the supervisor proceeded to read to the employee word for word (including my name)!

Most organizations conduct annual job evaluations that become part of the individual’s personnel file. They are often used to either document poor performance (to make the case for termination) or are used to justify promotions. While personnel evaluations are important for the employee to receive feedback on their performance, behavior, accomplishments, areas for improvement and quality of work, they are equally important to supervisors as a tool for learning how to judge performance, provide feedback, recognize accomplishments, and identify weaknesses.

To gauge whether and employee’s performance is below average, average or above average, the personnel evaluation must describe measurable job duties and goals, or standards by which the employee will be evaluated. What is often missing is that each employee’s job description should meet the goals of the organization so the person knows how they fit into the agency.

Over the past couple of weeks, our UDL class has engaged in discussion on creating expert learners, writing learning goals, providing effective feedback. A quality personnel evaluation within the UDL framework would consider:

  • the fit of the employee in their environment and within the organization (mission);
  • attributes that support or distract/impede the employee in performing tasks and meeting their goals:
  • the development of expert learners; and
  • continual feedback (not just one time a year).

The National Center on Universal Design for Learning describes goals as learning expectations…”They represent the knowledge, concepts, and skills all students should master, and are generally aligned to standards….are articulated in a way that acknowledges learner variability and differentiates goals from means…offer more options and alternatives—varied pathways, tools, strategies, and scaffolds for reaching mastery…are focused on developing expert learners” ( UDL curriculum, 2011). This concept of expert learners (those who are skillful, goal-directed, knowledgeable, and motivated to learn more) is very relevant to the work environment – the creation of life-long learners.
When considering employee performance, don’t forget about non-cognitive goals (motivation, affect, behavior, self-concept and social skills). From a blog I wrote on this topic earlier this week, non-cognitive goals are just as important when considering success and need to be integrated into any personnel evaluation.

And just a note on feedback…Feedback needs not only to be continual, but to be effective, should center on the task, process, and self-regulation. Feedback that only occurs once a year or that focuses just on the self (praise) does not improve work performance.


The National Center on Universal Design for Learning. (Feb 2011). What is meant by the term curriculum. Retrieved from http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlcurriculum

Non-Cognitive Learning

Through discussion this week in both the UDL and Legal Strategies classes,  the concepts of cooperation, collaboration, perseverance, and responsibility came up.  While perusing the Internet for information on collaborative learning, I came upon a reference to a book that I plan to purchase — Designing & Teaching Learning Goals & Objectives by Robert J Marzano. In his book, Marzano introduces for me an intriguing concept – non-cognitive learning goals.

We are so focused in our educational systems on GPAs as predictors of college and life success, but what about those other critical factors that must be in place to successfully manage school, college, work and life environments? Marzano discusses those factors such as study skills, work habits, time management, and help-seeking behaviors. Other educational experts and researchers are also increasingly pointing to the importance of non-cognitive learning concepts that support the idea that students fall short on their intellectual potential because of their failure to exhibit collaborative and non-cognitive learning goals. At this link, http://ccsr.uchicago.edu/sites/default/files/publications/noncognitive%20report.pdf , I found a great report that talks about the 5 critical categories of non-learning:
1) academic behaviors (doing homework, going to class)
2) academic perseverance (self-discipline, tenacity)
3) academic mindset (“I can succeed,” “I belong”)
4) learning strategies (goal setting, study skills)
5) social skills (interpersonal relationships, responsibility, cooperation)

Assessing a Tool Against UDL Principles

Assessing a Tool Against UDL Principles

I took a stab at creating an online book in the book builder at cast.org for our latest assignment of assessing a tool or environment, etc against the principles of UDL.  Here is a link if you want to check it out (you may need a free account).  I need to practice building books as I didn’t use the ‘coach ‘ avitars correctly


Digital Materials

I suspect that over 80% of today’s youth find all of their information (school work, sports, weather, news, music,) on the internet.  As digital services and technologies become more prevalent and complex, students need the skills and confidence to navigate the learning environment and interpret the range and qualify of information available on line.

Digital materials are important for universal accessibility (e.g., text to speech, graphics, large print) and even for preservation of resources that would be lost if only maintained in hard copy text.  To design curricula that meets the  needs of all students, digital materials must have “an inherent flexibility…and enable the assembly, storage, and maintenance of a large collection of examples in the form of text, sound or video – all in the modest space of a classroom.” (Hall, Strangman & Meyer, 2003)

My daughter has cortical visual impairment and is challenged to process a 2 dimensional photo.  I think many of us with different learning and processing styles also have an inability to mentally transfer 2D pictures into 3D objects.   I learned of several studies and resources, including ChemSense, software that students can use to create animations.  This link http://chemsense.sri.com/classroom/examples/hanmeltingice.mov shows an example of this (sorry – it wouldn’t let me embed the video without purchasing it as a movie).


 Hall, T., Strangman, N. & Meyer, A. (2003). Differentiated instructions and implications for UDL implementation.  Retrieved from http://aim.cast.org/learn/historyarchive/backgroundpapers/differentiated_instruction_udl


Dr. Davis on VCUs ACE-IT in College Program

This video features Dr. Michael Davis, Special Assistant to the Provost for Strategic Initiatives at Virginia Commonwealth University, speaking briefly about VCUs ACE-It in College program. ACE-IT in College is a demonstration project to fully include students with intellectual and developmental disabilities who graduate school with an IEP diploma into all aspects of campus life. Students earn a certificate from the School of Education after completing a minimum of 21 credit hours and an internship. There is no special curriculum or courses developed just for students with disabilities — they are fully included in classes that they choose from the VCU course catalog and are supported by a fellow student (called an education coach).

The video below also features Dr. Davis, but includes captioning – making it accessible to those who are blind or visually impaired.

The Art of Goal Writing

Did you ever stop and think about how many goals we work towards each day? Getting to work on time.  Finishing a To Do list.  Cooking a healthy dinner for the family.  There are multiple options for how we meet each of them, given our diverse learning styles and accommodation needs.  I may lay my day’s outfit out the night before to save me time in the morning.  I may take a shortcut on my drive in to avoid  heavy traffic spots.  I may need to use an app on my iPad for maintaining tasks that includes daily alerts to keep me on track.  I may use the internet to find a new recipe or video for steaming fish or stop at the market and talk to the butcher for cooking ideas.  

Did you also realize that goal writing is an art? Most of us understand the basic principle of a goal being a result or achievement we aim for.  One major problem of goal writing is how broad or narrowly they are defined.   “Goals that are too highly specified limit the possible strategies for reaching them, this suppressing creative solutions and limiting the number of people who can even attempt to attain the goals.” (Rose & Meyer, 2002). On the other hand, goals that are too disjointed and fuzzy confuse the person on how to achieve them. 

Through this week’s readings, I really began to question the complexity of goal writing.  While I’ve always been intimidated by writing goals with my daughters’s IEP team, Rose and Meyer broke down the process in a way that made such sense to me.  For example, I never thought about the need to use the whole brain to achieve a goal — our brains recognition networks to identify the who and what (the information); our strategic networks to emphasize the how (the process and skills); and our affective networks to connect the why (importance to me).   I remember in high school having to take tests on the civil war.  Sure, I could memorize dates of battles, and important speeches, but it wasn’t until 30 years later that I got the whole picture – the facts, meaning and importance – when I attended a Civil War exhibit at the Historical Society in Richmond.  It was a learning, living, interactive exhibit where letters home from soldiers were read aloud, firearms were available to touch and learn how to fire, recreated field hospital scenes were shown on screens, battle plans were available to read, and newspaper copies showed stories of life going on at home.   

So, based on what I learned this week, my task was to rewrite a goal.  I chose a work goal related to our emotional and informational  support to families.  

Original goal:  culturally and linguistically diverse families of children with disabilities will receive unbiased information from Family Navigators.       Looking back, I wonder if this wasn’t the outcome, rather than the goal.  

Rewritten goal:  Family Navigators will understand how to present, in a balanced manner, a variety of resources requested by culturally and linguistically diverse families of children with disabilities.   
This requires that the navigator define what each family is seeking (learn how to interview families to solicit needs),  search strategies (websites, brochures/guidance documents, workshops, applications, agency rep)  to find relevant resources (Medicaid, oral health care, child care, AT funding, support group, cochlear implants), monitor their progress (established in program guidelines), evaluate the quality of the  information (is it biased, is it family friendly, is it in multiple languages, is it current), keep track of resources collected (developing a binder or computer folder), and organize it into a meaningful, balanced presentation (how to keep personal biases and opinions out).

Enhancing the Navigator Training

It’s May.  There are 15-20 parents are in a hotel meeting room to get trained on their role as a volunteer Family Navigator.  There are round tables – 5 chairs at each table – and pile of toys and chocolate; a screen for projecting powerpoints; several flipcharts; 1.5 inch notebooks for each participant chock full of manuals, powerpoints, resources, brochures, etc.; and 3 trainers/presenters.  The training runs for 8 straight hours with a couple breaks built in for stretching, bathroom and meals.  We always start with an ice breaker so attendees get to talk in the first couple minutes of the day.   Then we move into having each presenter speak, one at a time, for about 30-45 minutes, using powerpoint and some small group activities.  Often there is a sign langauge or Spanish language interpreter in the room (in a corner located near the one or two attendees who requested the accomodation). Sometimes, we use CART service and may have a 2nd screen at the front of the room where everyone present can read the words spoken by the presenters.  We have toys for those that need to fidget.  We have music during breaks, lots of colorful decorations, and a variety of snacking food.  

This is a typical training for my office’s Center for Family  — Lots of paper, and lots of talking by presenters and participants in small group work.  Speech is a simple medium (includes words, gestures, expressions, pitch, etc.) to convey the message – my personal presentation style includes using lots of humor.  By having hard copy materials, attendees are able to maintain a lasting record of the presentation and to share factual materials with others who did not attend the event.

Our evaluations almost always indicate high satisfaction with the quality of our materials and the presenter’s knowledge.  Attendees also tell us that they are overwhelmed by the pace and amount of content covered.  

In Teaching Every Student, Rose and Meyer (2002, p. 46) note that speeches should not be more than 6 minutes (18-20 for a major speech), that repetition of a message is powerful for learner retention, and our ‘strategic networks’ have to participate at the same time in active listening, learning, and remembering – which are all affected by concentration (ability to screen out irrelevant stimuli).  In our training, we are clearly talking too long to hold everyone’s attention (interestingly the authors note the importance of using humor to gain and maintain listeners’ attention).  We are afraid to repeat ourselves in belief that people will get bored or irritated.  And, we may have too much stimuli (toys, color, music, food) that is distracting.  

This also brings me to the variety of text in our handouts.  We break all of the different content (modules) into separate tabbed sections making them easier to locate.   While again, providing a historical record of the event, the amount of text provided can be challenging in its different fonts, layout styles, and colors, and therefore overwhelming.    

An area for which we could improve is using images as a communication medium.  We typically try to have some type of graphic (clip art of people at a table to represent small group discussion or picture of a child or family) on our PowerPoint slides – not to necessarily represent an idea, but more to break up text!  While our authors note that images are not good for conveying abstract ideas, they do discuss the flexibility of digital media that takes one piece of information that can be quickly presented as text, auditorily, and graphically.  In an effort to reduce costs (grantors no longer want to pay for face to face training) and to be responsive to evaluation results, we have started moving these navigator trainings to an online, self-paced format.  They include slides, embedded videos (2 minute or less mini videos of parents or youth sharing a short story or topical experts giving quick snippets of information)  pop up boxes to highlight key information, links to resources, etc.  We still want more experiential learning – vignettes that they have to brainstorm or solve.   Unfortunately, it has taken 4 months to convert the first module – we aren’t done yet-  and I have 6 more to go.

Overall, we are constantly challenged to meet a variety of needs – some want hard copies of everything; some want it on line that they can access only when they need it.  Some want more activities; others hate to participate in them.  Some want all the information they can get in one long day because it’s too hard to get away from home or work for more training; others want information in short spurts.  

Experts Learners


To explain the concept of expert learners, I really enjoyed what I read by Rose/Meyer in “A Practical Guide to UDL” (2009)…teachers who offer more choices of topics and means of assessment notice a broader range of students who are able to participate. As students become more engaged, they put more time and effort into their work. This in turn raises teacher expectations…

I believe expert learners are those who are motivated to take responsibility for their learning and make the choice to be engaged in life long learning. This idea of choice is important in the transition planning domains of self-determination and self-advocacy.

In the learner variability PowerPoint we watched for class, I liked how Rose used such a simple example to correlate these concepts to vacation planning – packing your bags for all types of weather and situations that might occur.

Through my work with a pilot program with young adults with I/DD fully included in academic and campus life at my university, I see all of this playing out. Students tell us they did not experience high expectations from their teachers; therefore, their motivation to learn is fairly low. Students tell us they did not participate in a process of discovery through Part B transition planning to learn about what motivated and interested them; therefore, their choice of career options is fairly limited. We strive to proactively plan for any barrier or situation that could arise and to present information (in class, social activities, and on-campus employment) in physical, visual and auditory ways that promote their taking action (choice, responsibility) for their own learning (engagement) – becoming captains of their own ships!